Rory MacPhee is setting up what is thought to be the UK’s first curative forest just off the Fife Coastal Path.
The 64 year old is creating the facility on five acres of woodland in Lindamus Hill, close to Norman’s Law.
A curative forest – or forest bathing – is recognised in Germany and Japan as a specially arranged wooded area deemed suitable for promoting health and well-being.
In the UK the therapy is still practised outside the mainstream.
He purchased the land in 2013 but his curative work on the site began when lockdown was imposed in March 2020.
“When I bought the land it was neglected and overgrown,” he says. Now there are paths, a pond, fire circles, sit spots and ‘safe’ trees which are tested for stability.
“This is a place that opens people’s hearts.
“Over the next five years the site will become more developed and well known.
“There will hopefully be research done up here – I am seeing if there are measurable benefits of nature therapy.
“I’ve got a really great location here. Down there is the Fife Coastal Path and people walk by and are fascinated by the work I am doing here and charmed by the idea that a mature plantation forest is being gently recreated as a place of refuge.
“So people come and sit here and have their lunch, have a good blether. Sometimes they run out of water so I give them some water or some sultanas if they are hypoglycemic. It’s just a joyous experience being here.”
‘I am answerable to no one’
Rory, the son of a Glaswegian journalist, spent his first five years in Kenya and the rest of his childhood in East Sussex.
His diverse career includes spells as a shipping lawyer in Athens, a law lecturer at Newcastle University, a teacher at Falmouth Marine School and running boat-building and furniture-making companies.
His latest venture is under the company name The Nature Therapy Counsel.
“My previous jobs have been very stressful but this is my land and I am answerable to no one,” Rory says.
‘It is a valuable place’
The centre has not yet been officially opened but word of mouth has meant dozens of people have already enjoyed the calmness of the Lindor Curative Forest.
Rory says the facility stands out from a regular forest because he has created a private space free from unpredictable events – a dog off its lead, intrusive hikers etc – that might disquiet those with anxiety.
“I invite people to walk slowly around the forest,” he says. “This is not a place for mountain bikers and fell walkers but for those who may struggle with anxiety, or have mental health issues, or who are going through end of life care.
“It is a valuable place for these people.”
First official event
The first organised event at the forest is a paid overnight camping retreat on Sunday July 11. Rory will be joined by holistic health coach Angie Garton and Susan Brown, holistic health and happiness practitioner.
He says: “This retreat is best suited to women who feel a bit lost in themselves, for those embracing empowerment, confidence, positivity and acceptance of self.”
Free retreats for under-privileged people have also been arranged, including for a local youngster who visits once a week.
As part of Rory’s work with the Galgael charity, in the next few weeks youngsters from Govan will also be coming to the forest for a retreat.
“The contrast between here and Govan is quite something,” Rory says.
The big ambition
Rory’s big ambition is to persuade doctors to veer from the pharmaceutical route and instead prescribe a trip to Lindor Forest to patients with some physical and mental health challenges.
This form of green social prescription is being considered by the NHS, whose Long Term Plan “commits to significantly expanding the number of social prescribing link workers in primary care”.
The document adds: “Social prescribing and community-based support enable GPs, other health and care practitioners and local agencies to refer people to a link worker who gives people time and focuses on what matters to the individual.”
‘It has helped me with my cancer’
Rory, who lives in Leith, has support from Jane Lorimer, a Leven-based nutritionist and chiropractor who also has breast and bone cancer.
“I have spent time at the forest and Rory is so good at looking after people and making sure they are safe,” she says.
“It means people can really rest and relax, which is so effective.
“When you are in a chronic state it is crucial that you are able to rest, digest and heal.
“The most beautiful way to get back in touch with this is to go to Rory’s woods. It’s such an interesting place.
“It is wonderful to lay down on the ground in that beautiful place for an afternoon and falling asleep.
“No question, it has helped me with my cancer. Dealing with stress is so important so having the woods and being guided by Rory is so effective.”
‘I feel replenished’
Margaret Hannah, director of health programmes for Fife-based educational charity International Futures Forum, says many projects are emerging to support health and wellbeing by improving opportunities for people to be in nature.
“Rory is offering a place for people to have a rest and after a couple of hours in the forest I feel replenished.
“I would like to see more social prescribing in Fife. It’s happening but the agencies are unaware of what is going on in their own communities.”